For more than 30 years, Seattle-based owner Fran Bigelow has been setting candy trends—she was selling miniature chocolate bars and elegant truffles before they became ubiquitous. Her sweets also have a very high-profile admirer: As a lover of salty-sweet desserts, one of President Obama’s favorite indulgences is Fran’s Smoked Salt Caramels ($12)—buttery caramels coated in milk chocolate and sprinkled with smoked sea salt. franschocolates.com
To narrow down the chocolates we wanted to try, we read reviews of chocolates in Consumer Reports, polled colleagues and friends in the business, and sought advice from Mark Bitterman, owner of The Meadow. For our first review, we took into account availability and usability of online stores: For example, Kee’s Chocolates from New York City came highly recommended from colleagues and editorial publications, but isn’t available online, and our goal was to find something that is accessible to most people. Overall, we came to a well-edited list of 11 of the most highly rated samples to put in front of a panel of nine friends and food experts for a blind tasting.
The milk-chocolate-covered toffee was very good. I do not think the dark chocolate or white chocolate showcase the toffee as well. Lest my praise and high marks for the Chocolate Dream Box make you giddy, let me note that not everything was perfect. The crunch of the Hazelnut Crunch felt just a bit soft, and the chocolate flavor in the Lion Heart was blunted. And the price is high.
Cadbury makes chocolate bars, Christmas and Halloween candy, desserts, baking items, and beverages. However, what is available near you depends on where you live, since the company sells different items in different regions. One thing is for sure, though: when it comes to Cadbury chocolate, you can always find an egg, no matter where you are or what time of year it is.
Nandy’s Candy is a small, family-owned business and a much-beloved Jackson, Mississippi, institution. The shop is perhaps best known for chocolate-covered strawberries, which are dipped by hand as you order them. Other fun confections, such as chocolate-dipped Oreos, chocolate popcorn and fudge, will fulfill your chocolate cravings, no matter what form they take.
Chubby Chipmunk Hand-Dipped Chocolates is a quirky little chocolate shop that has something for everybody. This Deadwood, South Dakota, shop is known for its handmade truffles, which come in dessert- and drink-inspired flavors such as root beer float, New York cheesecake and Bailey’s Irish Cream. You know you’re getting a real gold nugget too, because each chocolate has to pass personal inspection before being sold.
Baking Notes: I cooked every brownie mix for LESS time than listed on the box. I used cake testers to test the middle to make sure the brownies were done. Click HERE for an inexpensive cake tester. None of them reached even the minimum baking time listed on the box. My advice to you is to ALWAYS set the timer for less time than listed on the box. If not, you may end up with hockey pucks for dessert!
Olive & Sinclair isn’t just Nashville’s first bean-to-bar chocolate shop, it’s the first such store in all of Tennessee. This small-batch shop does everything in-house, from stone-grinding their cocoa to finishing up the ethically sourced, organic confections. The results are scrumptious, of course, and include signature Tennessee items like bourbon brittle and caramels alongside duck fat caramels that simply melt in your mouth.
Though this taste test determined which cake we prefer, it’s worth noting that there was one ingredient missing—the frosting! It’s easy to imagine that many of these brands would have tasted sweeter, more moist and flavorful with a dollop of creamy frosting on top…unless, of course, you’re on board with the naked cake trend. Even if you don’t have a five-star boxed mix on hand, delicious icing can go a long way toward improving a so-so cake.
Packaging: While we were fans of the chocolate, the packaging we're not too sure about. One taster described the box as something you would give to your Tinder Valentine (but given how popular Tinder is, is that a bad thing?). While that may be taking it a little far, the lace covered heart is definitely va-va-voom so while these chocolates may be perfect for your S.O. maybe don't give them to your grandma.
In researching and testing for this guide, I was surprised to find that expensive doesn’t always mean high quality. Some of the costly boutique chocolates we tried were clearly made from inferior beans, with flavor that just died on the tongue. The Recchiuti chocolates, on the other hand, are worth the money, with the subtle flavors that come from great cacao.
We cut the chocolates into quarters so that more than one person could taste all of the offerings while also trying to avoid palate fatigue. While this may sound like a silly problem, it can be quite frustrating when your taste buds become overstimulated mid-tasting and fail you. To try to limit this, Saltines and club soda were set out to help tasters pace themselves.
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